Trying to Find the Silver Lining

There is more bad news for the manga industry, as Viz Media as announced a 40% reduction in staff.  Forty percent!  That is staggering, and considering that Viz is one of the stronger publishers in the industry, disheartening as well.  Yen Press announced a few weeks ago that they are going to cease publication of Yen Plus magazine, and it appears as though Go! Comi, the pub that introduced me to some great artists, has closed shop as well.  There is so much bad news that it’s hard to stay positive about the hobby right now.

I remember during the manga “boom” how exciting it was to go to anime conventions and attend publisher panels.  License announcements were a highlight, and energy pulsed through the convention center.  In contract, last year’s Anime Expo was so disappointing; there was hardly any industry presence, and new licenses were few and far between, and everything was more muted and subdued.  The economy was still in freefall, and with job losses mounting, most people were more concerned about making their mortgage payments than buying things.

Industry professionals constantly harp on how much money they are losing because of scanlations. I’m sorry, guys, but I’m tired of hearing that fan scans have ruined the industry.  The people who scan manga were never going to purchase your books in the first place.  They were never part of your prospective fan base.  Maybe jacking prices up on most of your titles during the worst economic downturn in history had something to do with declining sales.  Maybe licensing any piece of crap manga and flooding the market with subpar titles turned some people off reading them.   Ya think?  When I have to chose between groceries and books, the food wins every time. Especially when a title is questionable to begin with. That’s just life.  When people aren’t working, they aren’t spending.  Their kids aren’t spending because they no longer receive an allowance.  Libraries aren’t buying books because their funding has been cut and they are struggling to just keep their doors open. 

I live in a state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.  Joblessness has touched the lives of many of my friends and family members.  Foreclosures are rampant.  Things are tough.  The price of everything keeps going up, but wages are declining.  Tell me, how are you going to prioritize in that kind of setting?  Odds are, entertainment is going to be pretty far down the line.

What are some things the industry can do to improve sales?   That is an answer that must be found, and quickly, too.  An online presence, with a reasonable pricing structure, is something that needs to become a priority.  A release schedule that is a little leaner, with fewer titles hitting stores per month might help, too, but at this point, I’m not sure what will save the industry.  Based on my own purchasing habits, lower prices could spur sales.  Lately, I only purchase books that are discounted.  If Right Stuf has a studio sale, I will order graphic novels.  If a book is discounted at Amazon, I am more inclined to buy it.  If it’s cover price, I have to pass.  I just can’t justify spending $10 to $15 on something that I am more than likely going to donate to the library when I’m finished with.

What do you think is wrong with the manga industry, and how would you fix it?  Some brainstorming, along with realistic expectations of current market conditions, needs to happen, and it needs to happen soon.

This article is cross-posted at Newsarama

5 thoughts on “Trying to Find the Silver Lining

  • May 12, 2010 at 11:18 am

    As much as I agree that cover price is higher than perceived value received, I honestly don’t think there’s room for the publishers to cut prices. Reduced paper quality, slower release schedules, personnel cutbacks — all of those are signs of an industry trying to cut costs in order to shore up failing profits. If the cover price of the books are reduced, that won’t help failing profits. There might be an increase in sales, but I doubt it would be enough of an increase to offset the reduction in total dollars returned at the lower price.

    I don’t have a solution to the problem, unfortunately. Slower (but dependable!) release schedules are the solution I think would work the best. But then the publisher runs the risk of a reader losing interest due to the lack of new material. Or the counter problem, where the buyer turns to scans in order to get his fix faster and then fails to follow up with purchases when the American release is finally published.

    While I don’t think scans are the sole reason for the industry’s woes, I do think it’s a bigger factor than you seem to feel. I know way too many people who only read scans. They don’t own a single book or maybe they buy 1 or 2 series at most but read dozens more licensed titles online. Would they have bought those books if scans weren’t available? Some of the titles, no. Some of the titles, yes. The current economy isn’t helping and is likely driving more people to scans. But these people I’m talking about were reading scans and not buying books before the economy turned bad.

  • May 12, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I agree that the problem is complex and there are no easy answers. There are so many variables, but everyone keeps turning around and pointing their finger at scans. Most people who read scans are not going to ever purchase a legitimate physical copy of the book. They don’t hesitate to rip on publishers for even the slightest edit and for releasing a translation that they don’t think is up to their standards.

    I agree that it will be very difficult to reduce prices and still maintain a profit margin, but raising prices isn’t the way to go either. People already think that graphic novels are too expensive and that wouldn’t encourage them to buy more. I don’t think the current publishing model works, and publishers need to think outside of the box. I realize that there are issues with rights, but they need to think up a more creative way to sell their product. And they need to take the people who read scans right out of the equation, because I don’t think they are ever going to get them to spend money. Shut down the scan sites, sure, but don’t expect all of the people who read scans to turn around and start buying books.

  • May 12, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    Maybe they need to be more selective in choosing which titles to license. But then that’s easier said than done.

    As for me, I will only buy titles that interest me, and have good reviews. I am very selective and there’s only a handful of manga that really interest me. I have to be because 1) I don’t have space for tons of manga, 2) my conscience won’t let spend on stuff that doesn’t really matter to me. That said I hope to complete my Honey and Clover manga collection. As I am from a Third World country I won’t be seeing volume 10 as fast as US customers but I will be sure to buy it.

    >>But these people I’m talking about were reading scans and not buying books before the economy turned bad.

    I’m thinking perhaps they could try something like have it available online then charge for it. It should be cheaper since there’s no physical object bought. I don’t know of the feasibility but it looks more fair to me.

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  • May 15, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Maybe because I’ve lived in two very expensive east Coast cities, $8-15 for a volume of manga doesn’t seem outrageous to me, especially when a movie ticket costs anywhere from $10-14 in my neck of the woods, and a lot of new paperback books clock in at $8-20. I don’t know how publishers could make any money on their investments if they cut prices much further.

    As for the licenses themselves, I completely agree with your assessment. Companies licensed more material than retailers could hope to sell: should they try to keep up with everything, on the off chance that customers wanted Nightmares for Sale volume 2, or were they better off dedicating limited shelf space to guaranteed sellers? I’m hoping more companies consider the NETCOMICS model, where online performance drives publishing decisions. It seems like a smart way to recoup their investment on popular titles, while at the same time allowing the company to take risks on older or weirder material that might not find an immediate audience in print.

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